A compliment is never just a compliment

I was given a compliment the other day. By a guy. he said I look great. I said thank you, was flattered, and moved on. Since then, however, I’ve been thinking two things. one, my first thought when he told me that wasn’t “oh he’s just trying to make me feel better, he’s just lying, he feels badly for me” or something along those lines. that’s huge. as in, HUGE. The second thought, however, and the one that’s really been burrowing in my brain for a while, is that that compliment may have been the first one about my appearance from  a guy since high school. High school was 12 years ago. This breaks my heart. All at once I feel immense pity for myself and anger at myself for needing/wanting the external validation.

I want to wallow in the pity for a moment. Think about this for me – in 12 years I haven’t received a single compliment about my appearance from a male person (I’m excluding married/partnered friends who may say “your hair is gorgeous” so maybe I should clarify – I haven’t received a single compliment about my body from a male person who is single and who I may or may not be into). On top of this silence from my male counterparts I have society telling me in subtle (and not so subtle) ways every. single. day. that I am not the ideal body type – from advertisements to small seats on the bus to tight booths in restaurants to seatbelts that won’t fit to jokes about fatties (not to me directly, but that’s another post) and on and on and on and on. Jesus fucking christ, it’s no wonder I feel shame about the way I look.

I am jealous of my friends with partners. At the heart of it is the fact that their physical appearance is validated by their partners on an almost daily basis (I realize relationships don’t consist of two people staring lovingly into each others eyes for 5 hours a day, whispering sweet nothings to each other while caressing each other’s faces, but still). It seems to me that it just must be easier to deal with the harsh realities of the world when you know that your partner adores and supports you. The bad place I go in my head is when I start to tell myself that I should adore and support myself and that if I don’t do either of those, how can I expect anyone else to. While sure, there is some truth to this, it is incredibly dangerous, for it discounts the incredibly powerful nature of external validation. External validation is not a bad thing. We are human and we want to be desired. On “good” days, I adore and support myself. On “bad” days, it just sucks.

I don’t have any more deep thoughts on this at the moment; I just wanted to recognize in a semi-public way that body acceptance and body image work is the hardest shit I have ever done (and likely is for others as well) and it takes incredible strength to live in this world that’s telling you that you are not attractive.

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2 responses to “A compliment is never just a compliment

  1. I hear you loud and strong. But I think dating and relationships are founded upon much more than just appearance. Girls who are “conventionally attractive” often find that they get too much of the wrong kind of attention… men who chat them up because they view them as ornamental, decorative sex objects. That’s not the kind of attention any girl would wish to call to themselves, I think.

    A man who wants to date you because “you look great” is probably not the kind of man you want in the first place? Wouldn’t you rather a man who wanted to be with you because of “your warm personality” or “your burning intelligence” or “your convictions and the way you passionately stand up for the things you believe in”?

    I admit that I don’t know what to say to single people who want to find love. When I was single people told me “you will find the right one, one day”, in a sort of soothing but slightly condescending way. Now those people are kind of validated because I did indeed go on to find “the right one”, but I don’t think it’s a universal experience.

    All I can suggest is perhaps place less of an emphasis on how men respond to your appearance, and instead focus on how they respond to the inner you. Sure, the vast majority of men are superficial. Superficial men might find happiness with vapid but conventionally beautiful women. But women with brains, like yourself, are too good for men like that.

    • I agree, dating and relationships are about so much more than just appearance. However, I want someone who loves all of me, including my fabulous personality, my wit, my smarts, AND my hotness. I want someone who thinks I look great, because that is an integral part of who I am. I strive to “look great” in ways that many of us do – I like playing with fashion, I’m a fan of makeup, I do my hair, etc. I agree with you that how men respond to my appearance is less important than what they see on the inside; what I’m saying is that it’s not bad to WANT to be adored physically. It’s a pretty natural thing for a lot of us.

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